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Officers cleared in fatal shooting
Question of the Day
Federal authorities yesterday said they will not pursue criminal charges against two off-duty D.C. police officers connected to the fatal shooting of a teenager in Southeast last year.
“We are all of the view that what happened that night was a tragedy,” said Jeffrey A. Taylor, U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia, whose office supervised an investigation into the shooting of DeOnte Rawlings. “It’s our judgment after conducting an exhaustive investigation … that there is no evidence of a crime in this case.”
DeOnte, 14, was killed Sept. 17 after officials said an off-duty Metropolitan Police Department officer, James Haskel, noticed a minibike missing from his home.
He and another off-duty officer, Anthony Clay, drove around the neighborhood in search of the bike, and authorities say they found DeOnte with it in an alley between Yuma and Atlantic streets in Southeast.
Gunfire ensued, and an autopsy showed the teen was killed by a bullet that hit the back of his head. The days that followed pitted an infuriated community against the police department, and Mayor Adrian M. Fenty and police Chief Cathy L. Lanier turned the bulk of the shooting investigation over to the FBI, under supervision of the U.S. Attorney’s office.
Mr. Taylor and Joseph Persichini Jr. — assistant director of the FBI’s Washington field office — said yesterday that the combination of 42 interviews with witnesses, reviews of forensic and physical evidence and ShotSpotter data led them to not press charges against the officers.
They said the investigation indicated that after the officers found DeOnte with the bike, the teen fired first. Officer Haskel shot back and the teen began running in a southeast direction, firing another shot.
Another shot by the officer struck DeOnte in the back of the head and he fell roughly 90 feet away from the police. As many as 12 gunshots were fired within the six-second altercation, officials said, with DeOnte firing three to four.
“Rawlings is running and [continued] to shoot back, which entitled, in our judgment, the officer to continue shooting to defend himself,” Mr. Taylor said.
Officials said they still have not recovered a gun used by DeOnte in the shooting. They said witness accounts “put a gun in DeOnte Rawlings’ hand,” but declined to say whether witnesses other than the officers made that statement.
Officer Clay also left the immediate scene of the shooting but drove only a short distance away.
The conclusion of the 7-month probe clears the way for an administrative investigation into the officers’ actions by the police department.
Metropolitan Police Department spokeswoman Traci Hughes said the department has 90 days to complete the review, and that both officers are on administrative leave. They will be placed on “no-contact” status once police receive official notice of the federal decision not to press charges.
After being briefed by officials of the decision yesterday morning, Charles Rawlings Jr., DeOnte’s brother, said he missed and loved his brother.
“We can’t get no justice for my brother,” he said. “It shouldn’t have happened to him, none of this shouldn’t have happened. So now he’s gone, he’s dead. And we still — not yet — have not gotten no justice at all.”
A federal judge yesterday also gave the Rawlings family permission to proceed with discovery in a $100 million civil suit against the officers and the District.
“We simply do not value every life the same, and that’s an unfortunate situation,” said the family’s attorney, Greg Lattimer.
“And it’s once-again been proven by the actions of the U.S. Attorney’s office today … ‘My son is dead but they’re not going to do anything.’ That’s difficult to swallow for any parent.”
In a statement, Mr. Fenty, a Democrat, called DeOnte’s death “a tragic loss for his family” and said “the entire community continues to mourn for them.”
“Now that this process is complete, we will work to ensure that the community and our officers who put their lives on the line every day continue to heal together,” Mr. Fenty said.
By Mark Davis
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